When Freckles left, I walked back to my car. I stood there and under the parking lot lights I could see my faint reflection in the glass of the window. What I had just done was both crazy and courageous. Though I had nearly ran away in fear, life wouldn’t let me and when forced to face my fear, I gathered the strength to do what I knew I needed to. It really did feel like fate was bringing us together and leading us down a path with an uncertain destination.
I turned around and backed up against my car. Leaning against it, I took a few deep breaths, letting go of the stress with every exhale. As if that stress had physical shape, I watched my warm breath fill the cold air around me and vanish into the night sky. As it dissipated, I focused on the black sky above me. A clear night, stars scattered across the sky. The last time I looked at those stars was the night I convinced myself that Damien had let me go and forgotten the connection we had made. And now in that moment, I was standing there gazing at those stars again, knowing that he had never truly let go, he had never truly forgotten me.
I smiled and as if to validate some mystery or confess a kept secret, I said aloud, “I love you, Damien Finley, you don’t know it yet, but I love you.”
Shifting my weight off my car, I ran my hands through my hair, the day may have ended well, but I still had a lot of struggle ahead of me, we still had a lot of struggle ahead of us. Freckles had admitted to an addiction that I honestly had no idea how to help him through. To be completely honest I was scared that I would fail him. That he would spiral out of control and do something violent, get arrested or even worse end up dead from an overdose. No matter what hardships were ahead, I was not willing to give up. Never. He meant everything to me and after he said that he had needed me, I was hell bent on redemption. I was never going to let him down again.
I got back into my car, just in time to hear my phone beep. I had received a new message. I pulled the door closed, leaned back into my seat and grabbed my phone out of my center console. When the screen lit up, I saw that I had two new messages from Damien.
“I know we’re going to hang out tomorrow, but I’m feeling restless. I still have things going through my head and if I don’t get them out, I won’t sleep again tonight.”
I quickly started typing him a message in response, “I’m here, I’m never leaving your side again dude.”
“Thanks,” He wrote back. I wasn’t sure how he’d respond to that, but I wanted to remove all barriers of insecurity, to level the field completely of any second thoughts, any doubts about how I felt towards him and what he meant to me.
“Is it okay if I ask about the drug situation?” I sent hesitantly.
“Lol, situation? You mean addiction? What do you want to know?” He replied.
“Sorry, I just don’t want to say the wrong thing and upset you.” I continued with another message, “Do you want help? Are you looking to get help, is there anything I can do, I want to help you through this, help you be free of it?”
He messaged back, “A few months ago, I would have got pissed off at a message like that, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it, I didn’t want to believe there was anything wrong with me. But I know better now, I’ve seen what it did to me.”
Before I could reply to him, he sent another message, “I’d rather not get into it too much right now, but I’ve been seeing a drug counselor and she’s been helping me, I’ve been clean for about a week, but I’ll tell you more about it tomorrow. I want to talk about something else tonight.”
I wasn’t going to push it so I replied, “Alright man, no worries, what’s on your mind?”
“I lied to you earlier.” He typed.
“What do you mean?” I responded.
“About not remembering you.” Damien replied.
My heart fluttered with those words. He remembered me, I kept saying it over and over in my head, re-reading his text. Damien remembered me. He had noticed, acknowledged me and remembered.
“You remember me from that day at Subway?” I asked, trying to be coy as if I had no idea what he was talking about.
“Yeah man.” He wrote back.
“Then why did you lie about it?” I asked.
“It’s kinda hard to explain,” Damien typed, “I don’t really know how to tell you.”
I felt perplexed by his words. Why would it be hard to explain why he lied? And why had he been hiding his memory of me? Things weren’t adding up and I wondered what other secrets Freckles had been keeping from me.
“Dude, you can tell me anything, you don’t have to be afraid, I won’t be mad, I have the hots for you remember? Lol” I typed, trying to ease his cautiousness.
“Lol, yeah about that, why do you like me so much?” He asked.
Intrigued by his change in the subject matter, I decided to play along, “Well Freckles, lol, there’s a lot of things about you that I like.”
“Why did I stand out so much that day, years ago, that you never forgot me? I mean, I would think it would take one hell of an impression to remember someone like that, why me?” Damien inquired with curiosity.
“Hmm, the first thing that I noticed was your voice, cause I didn’t see you until after I heard your voice. It just sounded different to me, unique, it just caught my attention.” I replied to him.
“And you still feel that way about the way I talk?” He asked.
“Yes,” I sent back.
“Oh, so what else caused me to make an impression?” He asked innocently.
“Once I finally saw you, pretty much everything. Your height, your face, that amber colored hair and goatee, how muscular you are, your choice of clothes, your laugh.” It seemed so strange to be admitting these things to Freckles. After all this time, it was really happening. I was telling him all the things that I had waited years to tell him and he was actually asking me to tell him. It felt like a dream, like I was just dreaming this conversation. I was so afraid that I’d wake up the next morning and learn that none of it had ever happened.
“Interesting,” He typed back and then sent, “What part of our meeting do you remember the most, what part stands out the most?”
I took a moment to think about my response. I also wondered why he was so curious to learn these things. Why did it suddenly mean something to him? Especially, since just hours earlier he was freaking out about it. I guess he had time to think about it and let it settle in?
“When I was finally able to see you up close and we locked eyes, I can’t put into words how that moment felt.” I messaged him without any shame.
“When you walked by our table?” Damien asked.
“Wait, what? I quickly replied, astounded that he had remembered that moment.
“Yeah, I remember that, that’s the part that I remember, seeing you walk by.” He sent back.
Had he felt it too? Is it possible that he felt that moment, in a similar way that I did? Could it have been possible that a straight guy felt the intensity that resonated from me in a brief moment where we made eye contact? Was that humanly possible? Could he have sensed how much power he had over me?
“Do you remember feeling anything at that moment? If so, is that why you remember it?” I impulsively asked.
I waited and waited for a response. I was sitting on pins and needles, I could hardly take it. I wanted so badly for him to type back that he felt all those crazy things I did, so that I could tell him that I felt them too, I wished desperately to read that text from him. I don’t think my eyes blinked at all, while I sat there in my car in an empty parking lot, waiting for a text message.
As I sat there, I was startled back to reality when I heard a knock on the glass of my driver’s side window. I jolted in my seat and dropped my phone in the process, as a light from a flashlight shown through the glass and into my face.
I turned the key in my ignition to give power from the battery to my car windows. I flipped the switch and the glass slowly went down.
“Sir, are you okay, are you having car trouble?” A stern voice asked.
Once my eyes were no longer blinded by the light, I could see the man was an officer. I had completely zoned out and never even noticed his car pull up or the fact that his strobe lights were on.
“No sir, I’m fine, I was just texting someone and lost track of time.” I admitted.
“Alright, well I’m gonna need you to head on out, I can’t let you stay here, I don’t see a parking pass hanging from your mirror and this lot isn’t open to the public at this time of night.” The police officer said.
“Oh, of course, sorry about that, I’ll be on my way then.” I said as I turned the the key in my ignition all the way and started up my car.
“Have a good night, drive safe,” He said. I returned the farewell and hit the switch to roll my window back up, buckled my seat belt and headed out into the night. Unnerved by the reality that I had dropped my phone somewhere underneath me, I was anxiously awaiting Damien’s response.
I continued to drive and still had not heard a sound from my phone. I wondered whether he hadn’t replied or if maybe the phone hit hard enough to have knocked the back cover off and the battery fell out. The drive home had never taken so long before.
Pulling into my apartment complex, I saw the end of my worry in sight. I found an open space and parked. I reached down underneath me in the pitch black and started feeling around for my phone. Finally I found what felt like my phone, grabbed it and immediately realized that it was only part of my phone. It had indeed broken apart and all I had in my hand was the back cover.
“Damn it!” I said aloud, as I threw my door open to get out and dig down underneath my seat for the other pieces. The waiting to read Damien’s reply was killing me, I no longer had any patience and frantically reached my hand into every crevice under my seat in search for the rest of my phone under the glow of my car’s dome light.
Finally, victory was mine and I had all three pieces of my phone. I scrambled to put the pieces back together, the battery was the first and I immediately pressed and held in the power button until it beeped. I then reattached the back cover as it powered up.
If Freckles had felt anything that day when we made eye contact, it would mean everything to me and would be a light of hope in what had been a chaotic reunion.
Once the phone had reconnected to the network, it beeped, saying that I had received three new messages. I had never swiped at the text message icon faster in all my years of cell phone use.
“I don’t know.” Damien had replied.
After I hadn’t responded, he sent another message, “I just noticed you and I remember your face.”
“Fine, I did, I felt something, happy?” Damien admitted, he had thought I was ignoring him in the belief he wasn’t being honest. Me dropping my phone had actually turned out to be in my favor, my lack of responses caused Freckles to be more forthcoming.
“You did? What did it feel like, if you don’t mind me asking?” I sent.
“I don’t know,” he replied, his answers seemed painful for him, he was being very reluctant, as if it hurt him to be open and honest, “Like I knew you, without actually knowing you?”
“Hmm, and?” I inquired for more.
“And what? That’s it.” He replied.
“Dude, come on, I don’t mean to push or force you to tell me, it’s just that it matters to me.” I sent, hoping he’d at least try harder to explain.
“If you were anyone else, I wouldn’t, but…” He responded and continued with a series of messages:
“It was weird. Like, when I looked up at you and realized you were looking me right in the face and I looked in your eyes, it felt odd, just really strange. That’s never happened before, with anyone, ever.”
“When I caught your gaze, everything around me muffled and went silent, everything around me stopped and slowed down, I couldn’t see anything except you.”
“It was only a second, but it felt as though it lasted much longer.”
“Well, that’s intriguing.” I replied, acting like I wasn’t exploding with complete and utter vindication at his messages. He couldn’t have said anything more incredible than that. I wanted to throw my arms up in the parking lot outside my apartment and yell, “YES!” as loudly as I could, but kept my joy in my head, except for the fist pump that I couldn’t resist doing.
Freckles quickly followed my message with, “But I’m not a fag!”
“Man, you’ve got to stop using that word, it’s not exactly pleasant to hear or read.” I messaged back, once again annoyed at his choice of words.
“I’m not calling you a fag, I’m just saying that I’m not one.” Damien asserted.
“I know man, but it’s still not cool to use it.” I replied.
“Fine, whatever.” He sent back, I imagined he typed that message with a snappy attitude.
I stuck my phone in my pocket, locked my car’s doors and headed towards my apartment. His constant need to degrade what it meant to have feelings for another guy, was starting to get old. I knew that guys like him used those words in derogatory ways constantly, as some sort of validation that they were heterosexual, but degrading a group of people to push a point about yourself was less than dignified. I really wanted to think more highly of Freckles, that he would realize on his own that it wasn’t respectable to do that.
However, the more I learned about him, the more I came to realize that he wasn’t this perfect person that always said or did the right thing. On the contrary, Damien turned out to be a broken guy, having caved to addiction, chased away people that cared about him, struggled to find financial security, was somewhat selfish, carried an ego, was sometimes inconsiderate about other people.
Yes, Freckles was by no means a perfect person. He had is flaws, his struggles, mistakes and his defeats, but I knew the man he was inside, hidden behind all those negative things. I knew that despite those things, he was a man of honor, which he proved when he defended the girl that neither of us knew and expected nothing in return. He had integrity. He may not have had a master’s degree in anything, but he was also intelligent. Even when he was being a smart ass, he could still make me laugh. He was polite when he wanted to be and knew a few things about being chivalrous.
One couldn’t ask for or expect a better man than him. Maybe he didn’t always know the right answer or right action immediately, but he was a genuine guy, down-to-Earth and I knew that eventually he would figure out the right thing to say or the right course of action. Sometimes he just needed a little nudge to get there. Every man needs someone to remind him of who he is and what he stands for, I wanted to be this person for Damien.
By the time I ate dinner and got cleaned up for bed, Freckles had sent me a new message. I had hoped to read something of an apology and a sincere attempt to understand me.
“Again, I’m sorry,” Damien typed, “You have to understand that I’ve always liked girls, I had a fiance, we had sex man and I liked it.”
I replied, “Then what is this? Why do I keep getting mixed signals from you, why does it feel like it’s more than you claim it to be?”
Some time had passed and I went to lay down, finally Freckles replied back to me, “I don’t know, I don’t understand it.”
“Understand what, exactly?” I asked, hoping that if we dug deep enough, we’d find some clarity.
“This, us, why I feel like I’ve known you all my life.” He replied.
“Is that what it feels like to you? That you’ve known me forever?” I typed back.
“Man, I don’t know, I guess. Familiarity. I’ve become friends with you way faster than anyone else, ever. There’s so much about you I don’t even know and yet I tell you things that I’d never tell anyone else.” Damien confessed.
“So it doesn’t feel the same as with your other male friends?” I asked.
“No, it’s not like that, it’s different somehow. There’s the normal we talk and have hung out and we’re pals thing cause we get along, where I trust you and I know you’ve got my back, but then there’s this other part that’s different.” Damien typed, trying to find words for what he felt.
“Can you describe it? Is it a feeling you have or something that comes from me?” I inquired.
“Look at you talking like my counselor, lol!” Freckles quickly replied.
“Lol, sorry, I just want to understand all this.” I sent back.
“Dude, I think it’s because you’re gay.” He answered.
“Please, continue.” I encouraged.
“I’ve never talked to a gay guy before, like a normal conversation, certainly never hung out with one. In high school I made fun of them.” He replied.
“So you were a douche bag? Nice. Why didn’t you talk to them?” I typed with sarcasm.
“Because they acted weird, dressed weird, talked weird. I’ve never met one like you before. The ones at my high school were all girly acting and they always had an attitude, like they were better than everyone else.” Freckles typed.
“I see. Just like any other group of people, we’re not all the same. There is a vast array of gay and bi guys and there are many variations in appearance, behavior, interests, etc.” I replied.
It became clear to me that Freckles had a very narrow understanding of who or what gay men were. His limited experience with only one small fraction of gay men, forced him to conclude that they all acted or presented themselves the same way. Making him believe that those guys were the sole definition of what it meant to be gay.
“When you told me that you had feelings for me, I immediately thought about those guys from high school and it made me change the way I saw you, that’s why I freaked out, because I then saw them in you.” Damien admitted.
“And now what do you see or think? I asked.
“I’m not completely sure yet, but I know that you’re not like them. You don’t look, behave or even talk like they did. It surprises me that you’re gay. Are you sure you are?” Freckles asked innocently.
“Lol, I’m gay enough to know that I develop feelings for guys and that I’m not interested in pursuing girls. So unless that’s not the correct definition, then I’m pretty sure I am.” I answered.
“Do you have feelings for a lot of guys?” He asked.
“Lol, no, only you.” I replied.
“Hahaha!” Damien typed, “Nice answer, makes sense, I mean how could you not fall for me, right?”
“Lol, you and your ego!” I replied. Though his self-confidence bordered on egotistical, it amused me.
“Just being honest!” He fired back.
“So are you honestly freaked out or bothered by the fact that I like you?” I asked sincerely.
“I’m not sure yet, cause I don’t know what all that entails. I mean, when I like a girl, I do anything to get her and if I can’t have her then it’s hard for me to hang out with her because it just reminds me of how much I like her and can’t have her.” He answered.
“So you wonder what I’m going to do or say to you?” I asked.
“I just don’t know how you’re going to act around me. Are you going to hit on me all the time, are you going to try to spy on me in the shower if you hang out at my place, if we horse around are you going to grab my dick and act like it was an accident?” Freckles answered me with his own list of questions.
“I’m not going to treat you any differently than I have been. For the record, we pissed together that night we went to the movies. I could have looked at your junk then, but I didn’t.” I answered.
“And why not? Did you want to?” He asked.
I wasn’t sure how to answer him. The honest truth was obvious. Of course I wanted to, but I worried that if I told him that I had wanted to, then it may scare him away from wanting to be friends.
“I believe in being honest, even if the truth is painful. I didn’t look because I have more integrity than that. I like you, so I want to treat you with the dignity and respect you deserve. Did I want to look? Of course, part of me was curious. If a woman’s boobs were hanging out next to you, wouldn’t you be curious and want to look?” I typed back.
“Hahaha, tits are hard to resist, if that feeling is the same, then I commend you on being strong enough to resist!” Damien replied.
“Well thanks. Just consider it a symbolic act of my loyalty to you.” I typed, feeling as though he and I had just reached an understanding of one another.
“Noted, brother.” He sent in response.
“Are you happy now? Satisfied with my answers for your questions?” I asked.
“For now, but I’m sure I’ll have more tomorrow. Like you said earlier tonight, we need to be on the same page and I want to know how much I can truly trust you to respect the boundaries of our friendship.” He replied.
It seemed like Freckles was still not convinced that he could go back to being at ease around me. It made sense really, he had only just learned of my feelings toward him hours ago, he needed time to get used to it and figure out his own way of accepting it as part of our friendship. At least he still seemed as though he wanted to be friends.
I also wondered what he would talk about the next day, what he would say about his addiction and what he had been going through the last few weeks. I couldn’t imagine the things he must have been facing.
“Okay, well I’m going to get some sleep, what time do you want to meet tomorrow?” I asked.
“I was thinking 10, we’ll figure out what we’re gonna do when we meet up. How about at the grocery store again?” He replied.
“That works, I’ll see you tomorrow, goodnight.” I typed.
“Later dude!” Damien sent back.
I plugged my phone into its charger and settled into my bed, pulled the covers up to my neck and waited for sleep to take me. I knew that tomorrow was going to be an interesting day and considering all the things that happened the last time we hung out, I knew that I should expect the unexpected. Freckles was truly one-of-a-kind.
Click here to read more chapters from this novel.